Gary James' Interview With
The Last Of The Great Rock Sax Players
Phil Kenzie

He's played saxophone alongside some of the biggest names in the history of Rock 'n' Roll music. We're talking The Beatles as a group, as well as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Black Sabbath, The Eagles, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Peter Frampton, Billy Preston, Delaney And Bonnie, Leon Russell, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Roseanne Cash. Well, you get the idea. And even before all that, he shared the stage with The Beatles at The Cavern Club, performing with his own group, The Pressmen. Oh, and those sax solos you hear on Al Stewart's "Year Of The Cat", "Time Passages", that's him as well, not to mention the intro to Paul McCartney's "Jet" and the "Long Run" on The Eagles' 'live' album.

The man we are talking about is Mr. Phil Kenzie. Phil is releasing a CD titled "A Night With The Cat". Recorded between 1998 and 2008 and never released before, it's an instrumental depiction of the lyrics and story of "The Year Of The Cat" hit single by Al Stewart in which Phil plays the famous saxophone solo. In support of that CD plans are in the works, as they say, for a Save Our Sax Solo tour. It is with great pride that we present a Rock Sax Legend, Mr. Phil Kenzie.

Q - According to your press release, you're "The Last Of The Great Rock Sax Players". But there are some other guys...

A - There are some other guys. It's really a question of how you get rated as regards to hits and things like that. I mean, there are many Rock Sax guys. Not all of them have managed to come above the radar, you know?

Q - Nothing can top the list of musicians you've played with. However, there is one guy from Syracuse, New York that is well-known and his name is Jimmy Cavallo. Have you heard of him?

A - I know the name. I'm not award of his work very much. What is Mr. Cavallo famous for?

Q - He was in that Alan Freed movie, Rock Rock Rock.

A - Okay. He's more of a vintage guy then if it's Alan Freed. Well, there was Rudy Pompilli too. A lot of those guys have passed on. There are great sax players all the way along. One of the greatest of them all played a wonderful solo on many tunes, but two of his famous ones are "Yakety Yak" and the other was on Aretha's "Respect". That would be King Curtis out of Texas. He's probably one of the biggest influences of early Rock 'n' Roll, which is essentially part of that "chicken" sort of playing. Almost a Country style as well as the roaring and a lot of the basically screaming sax. We mustn't forget in that genre, although he kind of branched a little off into comedy, was Boots Randolph famous "Yakety Yak" and all that. We can't forget Junior Walker. There's so many people, it's hard for me to remember all the names. There's Big Al Sears, who was another big Rock guy in the '50s. But most of these guys have passed on. One of the reasons for my "Save The Sax Solo" is I was very upset with the death of Clarence Clemons. He and I met years ago. We spoke about how it was kind of strange that both of us had been influenced by King Curtis. Funny enough, I didn't even know at that time, but I discovered more recently that he and I were only a couple of months apart in birthdays. So we're pretty close in age. So that brought it home to me. Also, right after that, only a year or so later, I decided then I was going to come out and start playing again. It's in my progress towards playing in public. Raphael Ravenscroft and I have been confused somehow in people's minds from time to time. We actually share the same name. My middle name is Raphael. He played the "Baker Street" lick. He just upped and died a few months ago. Next thing I know, oh, Buddy Keys isn't feeling well and he ups and dies. I'm going "My goodness, that's three very noted names who've played a lot of classic stuff and they're just gone." Then I was talking to a gentleman out of Atlanta called John Lauter who is also a good sax player and devotee of the Pop saxophone as opposed to Jazz, and he made it his business to compile a complete list of all the players. He wanted everybody to know who played what. He made a list and started from the beginning of Rock 'n' Roll right up to present day. I think he's only up to about 2012 so far. So he's got a little bit of ways to go. That was the list I looked at and I said to him, "You know, it's been a while since I heard what I call a high impact sax solo. You know, one that you really remember in the Top 30 of the singles charts." And he said, "You're right. Sadly that is the case." That intrigued me. I thought, well, I'll go out and see exactly if that's the truth or if I've missed something. I looked at the first eleven years of Rock 'n Roll and I looked at all the numbers of sax solos from 1954 to 1965 and there were 397 that John Lauter had listed, which is quite a lot. A lot of solos in the first eleven years of Rock 'n' Roll as it were, and that's including several years of The Beatles too. Then I looked at the years 2000 to 2012. You know how many there were? Eight, and two of them were Clarence when Lady Gaga put him on two of her single releases. By that time, he was very ill and in a wheelchair. And he passed on. Of people potentially living, there were only six of nine of those years from 2000 to 2011, the number was zero. There you have it.

Q - You've got to go out and tour to get audiences re-aquainted with the sax.

A - Well, we're losing an American art form. We're just losing it. It's just going. There was the guy with Little Richard and Bill Haley and Rudy Pompilli and Duane Eddy. There was Johnny And The Hurricanes. There were loads of sax players all over the place playing solos. Now there's hardly any at all. Those that are, aren't making it onto the singles and the singles certainly aren't making it onto the charts. Even if those figures are half-way correct, it would still be a disaster. As it is, it's a catastrophe. We better get out there and start inspiring people to play it.

Q - When you were starting out in music, right around the same time the Skiffle movement was underway, all these groups were forming with guitars, why didn't you pick up a guitar?

A - Well, to tell you the truth, I did first off and I played in Skiffle bands. I played that kind of thing, but for some reason it really didn't inspire me that much. It did more from the point of singing the songs 'cause I could accompany myself, but in fact I started listening to Big Bands. I started listening to some of the sax solos that came out of the Big Bands. There was one guy that played with Stan Kenton, Vito Musso. He must've been one of the forerunners of Rock 'n' Roll playing. Then I got on to people like Earl Bostick and Lovie Jordan and people like that. Then of course I discovered King Curtis, (laughs) and I never looked back. I went to see a lot of the Jazz players, but it was always the ones that honked and roared. I didn't like the clever ones so much, what I called the clever guys. I quite liked listening to Paul Desmond. I quite liked listening to Stan Getz, but it was people like Stanley Turrentine and Dave 'Fathead' Newman, playing with Ray Charles, and Sonny Stitt and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. People like that. I would listen to all of those guys. They were kind of "Wow!" I liked the gravel and the aggression. That's what I liked about the Rock 'n' Roll players. They had an aggression. They weren't really trying to be cool so much as they were trying to roar. (laughs) I like the roaring idea of playing the saxophone. You just come leaping in and screaming away. (laughs) That's what I like.

Q - Were you playing sax in The Pressmen?

A - Yes. We were one of the only groups in Liverpool (England). In fact, I encouraged the rhythm guitar player to get a sax as well and he liked playing one. He gave it up eventually 'cause he couldn't make a musical living playing the sax or rhythm guitar. He actually ended up as a bass player and a very successful one in terms of working. He was a working bass player for most of his life and did very well out of it. We were one of the only bands that had two horns, one of which was a baritone sax. That was unheard of in Liverpool. There were one or two dotted sax players around, The Undertakers with Jack Lomax and Chris Hilson. One called Brian Jones and had the nickname of Boots 'cause he liked Boots Randolph. He used to wear a top hat and play sax with The Undertakers. And of course everybody is probably familiar with the name Howie Casey. He played with a band called Howie Casey And The Seniors who were the very first Liverpool band to actually play in Germany and they were the ones that recommended The Beatles to one of the clubs there that was looking for bands. So that kind of launched The Beatles' career. Howie became one of their favorites. In fact, Howie and I played on "Jet" for Paul McCartney. We played on that one together.

Q - You shared the stage with The Beatles at the Cavern?

A - Oh yeah, frequently. We used to drip sweat on each other. (laughs) Literally. The Cavern, if you knew it, had an archway. If you were looking at the stage, to the left side of the stage there was kind of a boxed off area, like wooden signing. A kind of boxed-in area with a door on it. In fact, it also held one of the speakers that fired down into the crowd. The amplifier and everything was inside there. Bob Wooler, who was doing the DJing, would sit inside there. He wouldn't be visible in any way. He'd just be talking to the crowd and putting records on. So the P.A. system worked in there and on the stage. I remember they used to use Reslo ribbon mics, those little square things which you'll see in photographs of The Beatles when they're on stage there. We've got pictures of ourselves playing on that very same stage. In fact, you can tell by the amplifiers on the stage that either we were using theirs or they were using our amps. Mostly they were trying to use ours. At the time they didn't have a lot of money. One of our band guys had left school early and was working for Unilever as a research chemist and he was getting a decent wage per week. He bought himself a really nice RCA fifteen inch speaker with a Phaselinear amp, thirty watts and that was something back then, to have a bass amp like that. So Paul was always asking Bob if he could borrow his bass amp. I don't think Bob ever lent it to him. (laughs)

Q - When you'd listen to The Beatles on stage at the Cavern and watch them perform, did you recognize there was something unique about them?

A - You couldn't mistake it at that point. Earlier on perhaps when they were The Quarrymen maybe you would've thought just another Liverpool band, but by the time we were playing gigs with them, I remember they were in the black leather. They'd been to Germany. They'd literally been run through the mill in terms of playing long hours and they were highly developed as a band. And on top of that they wore this black leather and had almost this biker look with black polo neck sweaters. How they wore black leather in that temperature I'll never know. They must've been sweating bullets. Well, they were. I know they were. They would come off and their pants would just be running with water from sweat, but the girls were screaming. You couldn't mistake that. They screamed a bit for us, but they screamed their heads off for The Beatles. The girls were practically going into fits and falling on the floor when they were on stage. The Beatles were extremely popular at that point in Liverpool and very much, to the local girls, sex images. And in particular, sad to relate because I always feel it was somewhat wrong what happened and I think Paul admitted it later, what happened to Pete Best. Pete Best was staggeringly good looking at that time. I remember there was a very chiseled looking film star at the time called Jeff Chandler.

Q - I recall comparisons were made between Pete Best and James Dean.

A - A cross between James Dean. At one time he was called a teenage Jeff Chandler. Jeff Chandler had an absolutely classic male high cheek bone look and he was a very handsome looking guy. Pete Best was just like that. He was the best looking of The Beatles by far and the girls were practically flocking to him. He almost had his own fan club. His family was almost a little more well to do than either John or Paul's family. He mentioned then having a club, a cellar place where they used to practice in. That was all to do with his family. They were a little bit better off than Paul or John because John was brought up by his auntie or something like that.

Q - How was Pete Best's drumming?

A - It was as good as any other average drummer in Liverpool. He wasn't terrible. Ringo was older than him and had played for longer, so Ringo was a little better, but just a little more experienced really. The thing with The Beatles is at the time they were trying to play thunderous Rock 'n' Roll, whereas Rory Storm, which Ringo was with, they used to play sort of moderate Pop stuff more based on the London sort of thing than the R&B stuff The Beatles were playing, "Money" and "Some Other Guy". Those sort of songs were part of their repertoire at that time. "Roll Over Beethoven". They had basically a four to the bass drum like boom, boom, boom, boom. They were fairly solid, heavy. If they've been born later they would've been Heavy Metal. (laughs) They were trying to be a powerful band whereas other bands were trying to be more musically skilled. At the time the musical skill in The Beatles wasn't that great. John was a fairly decent rhythm guitar player. George was a sort of average to good lead guitar player. Paul was still learning to play the bass. He started out as a rhythm guitar player. Paul progressed very rapidly. They all progressed very rapidly. That's why the Liverpool thing was very much the making of them in that sense.

Q - Did you realize something magical was happening in Liverpool?

A - Well, we never realized it. I don't think anybody realized it. We were all playing and it was all fun, but we had no concept. Not even the managers had any real concept of what was about to happen. We didn't know for instance what kind of... to us America invented Rock 'n' Roll and it was like a brick wall of everybody coming from America, coming into England and we were just taking it in, playing as good as we could play like those Americans played. So, Rock 'n' Roll was very much American property. We never dreamt we were going to penetrate America and become stars. What we didn't realize was that on the American side, there was an admiration for things outside America that America was suddenly about to discover. We didn't know they would discover that. We thought America was a musical authority in a way. You know what I mean? They knew Rock 'n' Roll and they knew how to play it and they knew what it was. They invented it. They basically were selling it to Europe if indeed selling it was what we thought of. It wasn't really that. We were watching the movies and going "Wow!" So, for The Beatles to go to America and have a hit in America was like "Wow! It's going back the other way and America got transformed over night. Now, to some degree, from what I liked in the saxophone solo, The Beatles were detrimental. They didn't represent that American side of American Rock 'n' Roll and Americana that had sax solos. They didn't respect that at all. So when they transformed America, you could see that in the sax charts from John Lauter that the advent of The Beatles and the number of sax solos in America in the charts, halfed. It went half of what it was. So it didn't die, but The Beatles had a big effect on it. They changed America into more of a three guitar thing. You could see all the American groups start to be looking like The Beatles and have the same kind of line-up. You saw a lot of sax players disappear at that point. Before that, I think there had been an apparent situation where it wasn't really integration, but you saw Little Richard and Fats Domino on one side and you looked at Bill Haley on the other side and Duane Eddy, you realized that saxophones and Rock 'n' Roll went together whether it was a White or Black band. You saw that that was Rock 'n' Roll. Once The Beatles happened they transformed what I would say was basically the White side of Rock 'n' Roll and the Black side went much more R&B, went much more Otis Redding. We had the whole Stax / Volt thing and Wilson Pickett. In the '60s there was a big separation of Rock 'n' Roll going into an R&B direction on the one side and going into some of a Folk and guitar direction in the other.

Q - We actually had a mix like we'd never seen in music before with Motown and the British Invasion and Pop music.

A - But I think the Black artists came into their own as far as what they were doing and it became almost a separate thing. There was some crossover of White artists into Motown but not a lot. Mostly Motown was Black artists, mostly African American, although they did sign one or two White artists that's for sure. On the other side I think The Beatles brought out people like James Taylor. They were certainly around Apple in The Beatles' development. Probably the biggest R&B influence that was in Apple was Billy Preston. I wouldn't say there was a kind of barrier in any way. It was just a natural kind of separation thing and Motown had a big thing to do with it as well. That whole snake pit, as they called it, pumping out those hits that everybody thought were phenomenal and James Jamison developing that bass line thing that was to be so typical of a Motown kind of release, whereas the White guys were going in almost a different direction. Everything was going on at once, but there was still also a separation going on because eventually the White guys ended up in the second British Invasion which was Heavy Rock which developed into Heavy Metal. So that progression went eventually probably into like the Disco thing and to some degree Rap eventually. All that developed on what I would call the African American side of things for the most part with some crossover. There's always some crossover. There was always White people singing R&B style. One of the famous ones was George Michael at the time singing a sort of Pop thing which could have been very similar to Motown in a way.

Q - Your group, The Pressmen, also played The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. Was this around the time The Beatles would have played there or after?

A - Well, The Pressmen broke up. The singer that had been with Howie Casey And The Seniors, a guy called Derek Wilkie joined our band. We had for a temporary amount of time Derek Wilkie And The Pressmen. Then The Pressment themselves broke up and we wound up with two other add-ons and they were called The Others. It was Derek Wilkie And The Others. That band played The Star Club.

Q - What year would that have been?

A - '64.

Q - Were the working conditions the same as when The Beatles played there? John used to famously say The Beatles played eight hours a night but what he left out was there were three other groups that were also playing, alternating with one hour sets.

A - Now, they may have played more. You know, The Beatles never played The Star club. They played a club called The Kaiserkeller as far as I know. I think the records will show The Beatles never actually played The Star Club. I think Howie Casey And The Seniors played The Star Club and there was another club owner they went down to see at The Kaiserkeller who asked them for a band. They recommended The Beatles and they went over to play The Kaiserkeller. I think they used to actually sleep in the club.

Q - I believe The Beatles did perform in The Star Club.
(According to The Beatles Anthology, the group did play The Star Club several times in 1962).

A - Well, maybe you're right. My information was that they didn't play The Star Club. I could be wrong.

Q - The Star Club sticks in my mind because as I said, John said they performed eight hours a night. I found that to be incredible.

A - Nobody played eight hours. What they meant was they played over an eight hour period. Depending on how many groups there were in an eight hour period they might play two or three sets. On the weekend it was longer than that. They would play from six to six, six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning. They played over a twelve hour period. But during that period they'd go back and have an hour's sleep and then come back again. Sometimes they'd miss a set because somebody would still be asleep. (laughs) It was kind of casual in a way. I remember in those days everybody used to take pills and try and stay up all night and all day. I think one time I was up for four or five days.

Q - Wow!

A - I remember I was going back to the hotel, looking at the bed, pulling German marks out of my pocket. I changed my pants and I woke up nineteen hours later, still lying flat out on the bed. (laughs) Apparently I missed the first set the following night. (laughs) Everybody was saying, "Where the Hell were you?"

Q - Did you ever cross paths with Brian Epstein at The Cavern Club?

A - Never. I never met the man. He was a fairly private man from what I can gather. You've got to remember The Cavern was a pretty fluid situation. You were humping gear in and out through sweating crowds. It wasn't exactly a place where you could have a casual conversation. It was loud. Music was blaring all the time. You would had to have been approached by Brian himself to actually strike up a conversation because you're too busy trying to get in and trying to get out. You might hang around a little while to watch one of the other bands, but by that time you were probably soaking wet having been on stage. I remember they had a thermometer on one of the walls and I remember looking at it and it was reading 118.

Q - That is hot!

A - Yes. (laughs) You could actually feel hot air going up the leg of your pants as you were trying to walk through the crowd. It was a phenomenal situation, but we were young. We didn't care. We were all out for a good time. Liverpool was a very energetic and rough, dangerous place to be. Lots of fights. I never saw a fight at The Cavern but I did at The Iron Door club. We played The Iron Door club a lot and there were fights there all the time.

Q - Wasn't The Iron Door club a place where members of The Beatles and Stones would come in for a drink? Didn't Brian Epstein frequent that club as well? What was that place like anyway?

A - It was so called because it had an Iron Door on the front. It was part of a warehouse situation where you had open iron doors on various levels of the building. At the top they would have one of those crane-type of things, like a chain thing that would come down. You could take stuff off of wagons up onto various levels. It was storage on various levels. We used to change upstairs and they would open that door and you could see down into the street from there. I remember one night being there and some poor guy took a dislike to me. I guess he thought I was looking at his girl or whatever he thought. He threw a bottle straight at me on the stage. I saw the bottle whizzing straight at me and I kind of froze. I didn't know what to do and this guy in the front in a white shirt, 'cause everybody was shoulder to shoulder in front of you, tried to step across somebody in front of me. This bottle took him right on top of the head. Sliced the top of his head open. We were showered with glass and they had to help him off and took him upstairs. I remember being upstairs, trying to assist him in calling an ambulance. There was blood everywhere. All over his shirt. It had sliced the top of his scalp open. While we were trying to clean him up and waiting on an ambulance to arrive for him, there was a running fight going on outside in the streets. People kicking the hell out of each other. (laughs) It was a pretty dangerous place. People carried all kinds of weapons. You didn't have like American guns, but you certainly had knives, axes and chains.

Q - It's a good thing they didn't have guns! What you guys needed was bodyguards!

A - For sure. It was a rough city, but you learned how to take care of yourself.

Q - You played sax on the "Let It Be" album or on the last "Let It Be" song? I don't recall hearing any sax on the "Let It Be" song.

A - Yes sir. There's a whole brass section in the middle there. They did do a bit where they took that off. You have "The Beatles Unplugged". That was Paul's idea. Quite honestly I have no idea why they did it. It sounded good with the horns on it. That was a night when I thought we were doing a George Harrison track. Mal Evans called me and he was my liaison guy whenever they wanted horns. He would call me up and go, "Phil, can you get this together?" So then I'd get on the phone and get all the guys down there that they wanted. I used pretty much all the same saxophone guys, but there would be variance in the trumpet and trombone guys 'cause they might be working or not available on that night. So, I would have to have a book full of guys that I knew were good and I could put in. That night it was a couple of trumpets, a trombone, three saxophones. Something like that. Not a huge, big band, but a big enough horn section. It was at the E.M.I. Abby Road, not that we hadn't played there before, so it didn't surprise me, but it was in the evening this time whereas the other times it had always been in the day. When we got in there I looked up and I suddenly saw Paul McCartney walking around.

Q - Was that the only song you played on?

A - Yes. At that time we were essentially George Harrison's contact. And we were that contact because of Jackie Lomax. Jackie Lomax was signed to Apple at the time because he was a big pal of George's. We knew Jackie well. We knew The Undertakers well. Also, by that time I had joined up with Doris Troy of "Just One Look" fame and I was playing in a band with her called The Gospel Truth. Basically she was badgering George to make his album. She wanted to be on it. Doris was a networker. She wanted to be on that album doing back-up work. She did back-up singing work as well as singing leads on things. And of course most of The Beatles, George included, were very much like a lot of British people. They were very impressed by American stars. That's why on the album the only people to get credit were either the big British stars or the American people on it that George thought were worthy of putting their names on the album. All the rest of the players didn't get any credit. But that was the same way with The Beatles. Most of their tracks, you rarely saw any credit for anyone. So, it was a bit tricky getting your name out there. It wasn't something generally done in England. I found the American situation much more beneficial in that regard. Most Americans I've worked for, acts, have seen to it that your name is well credited on the album, which I like that idea. I think that's a good thing.

Q - You have to give credit to the people who did their job.

A - Exactly, and also it helps your career. There's nothing wrong with that.

Q - It would have been a different story today.

A - Exactly, but in those days many of the young acts like The Beatles themselves felt somehow like it was this great big record company and they were just a little band. They felt like the powers that be... I mean, they didn't get a very good deal when they first joined E.M.I. The Stones got a much better deal.

Q - It was only through the persistence of Brian Epstein that The Beatles got a record deal. Every company turned them down. At any given time Brian Epstein could've thrown his hands up in the air and said, "I tried guys," but he didn't do that.

A - Exactly. The Beatles cracked open the door for everybody.

Q - On both sides of the Atlantic.

A - In a lot of different ways. I think there were a lot of avenues for success in America because of the whole Elvis thing. There were various labels that were pioneering, Sun for a start. The novelty of new acts was very much being exploited or certainly marketed by American record companies who were on the one hand slowing down a little bit their pushing of the big ballad stars, but still realizing the value of them. People like Sinatra and Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. People like that, and going more towards the Rock 'n' Roll, realizing those people could move product. It was a little tighter in England. It was a little more structured. The Beatles had a hard job being accepted because everything was really based more around London acts. It was very regional. Anything from Manchester or Liverpool was really looked down on. It was as if London controlled it all. So, that's why they had to go to London to get signed in the first place.

Q - That "Let It Be" session was right around the tail end of The Beatles as a group. Did you witness any in-fighting among the group members?

A - All we noted really is that when we were with Lennon, no one else was around. When we worked with The Beatles, Lennon wasn't around. Mal was very much the intermediary between all of them. One night we got called and it wasn't like they weren't speaking to each other. Mal said, "I'll pick you up." He came with this white limo and it was a Mercedes. He said, "Oh, this is George's Mercedes." We thought, oh, we're going to a George session. He started driving out in the country and we thought where the hell are we going? We ended up in Ascot. We ended up at John Lennon's house. It's a famous house. It had belonged to Peter Cadbury. It's the one that's on his album that you see with the telescope and the white piano where he had everything painted white and it had gold carpet. We had a wonderful evening. The house is gorgeous. Yoko was there. We were playing saxophones. That's the night we were hearing the upstairs toilet flushing in the headphones while we're playing! Yoko had a microphone in the toilet. It was injected into our mix as we were playing. It was just kind of amusing and to freak us out and be off the wall because you knew that's what they were into at that point. But a wonderful evening. A great house. Fabulous house. Great food that they had provided. Lennon was very casual and very relaxed as regards to working and the way he wanted to work, whereas with McCartney, when we worked with him it was a much more structured situation. We were putting horns on "Jet". We were doing it at George Martin's studio. So it was a lot more conventional. It was a structured day. John Lennon would show up whenever, work 'til whenever. And of course none of The Beatles were at John Lennon's house. Mal was still there. We found out later that that white limo was George's, but it had been John's. In fact, John was selling it to George. Either selling it or giving it. I don't know. But that's why Mal had the white limo. Why we went to John's in it, the deal of changing the two over or the car going from George to John was right in the process at that moment. So, Mal had charge of the car at the time.

Q - Do you know why The Beatles as a group didn't record in the U.S.? Was it because of taxes? I heard playbacks in the studio were quite involved.

A - I really don't know to tell you the truth. Lennon did on his own. I think some of it was there was a certain creative process dealing with musicians and people they were familiar with. Some British stars were loathe to think of it. It was out of their comfort zone. Once they'd done it once they suddenly realized, oh, I can do this. It's a bit like me playing saxophone. I've played with bands in England. You come to America and you see all these American bands. You think, I'm a British sax player. Will they accept me? Will it be okay? And of course once you do it, you not only do it, but you have a hit with American bands they go, "Oh, it works!" (laughs) But you never know whether you're going to be accepted or not right off the bat. See, it was a little in reverse for Americans going to England. The British already revered the Americans being the beginners or starters of Rock 'n' Roll. So having an American on your record was kind of cool. We didn't know if having a British guy in what was essentially an American form, namely saxophone, would be accepted. And by and large they really haven't been. Some of that lies with the British Rock stars themselves because they came to America and they were so dying to use what they would see as the originals in Rock 'n' Roll that they would hire an American player to do the job. So, a lot of British sax players didn't get to come across and work in the American arena. I'm one of the few that has. I think I'm the only British sax player that I know of that has actually been instrumental in launching or breaking yet to break artists in the American Top 30 singles charts and also to play and launch the careers of American artists to the Top 30 songs, apart from playing with big acts. Obviously I've played with The Eagles and I've played with The Beatles, but they were established acts. When I played with Al Stewart, he had yet to break anywhere and so I helped break him by playing solos on "Year Of The Cat" and "Time Passages". But also when I came across to America I played on Poco's album, although they were known, they were struggling to break. They had never sold 200,000 records, which wasn't quite breaking as far as the record company was concerned. You need to be a million seller.

Q - At that time.

A - Yeah.

Q - Today it's 200,000, wow!

A - Yeah, but then if you didn't sell a million they didn't want to know (you). You weren't breaking even for them if you only sold 200,000 records. And indeed Poco was breaking up. I mean they lost just about everybody. Richie Furay had gone. Randy Meisner had gone. Poco is one of the few bands that have the dubious honor of having lost two members to The Eagles. Randy Meisner left Poco and joined The Eagles. They got in Timmy Schmit and then Timmy Schmit left and joined The Eagles. And of course they lost the drummer, George Grantham, at that time. In fact at that point in time there were only two people left, Paul Cotton and Rusty Young. Rusty wanted to be the leader and he technically owned the name, but he wasn't a front line singer as far as he was concerned. He had to learn to be a lead singer as it were. It took time to learn how to sing. I got called in and really it was the last album the record company was gonna do 'cause they figured the band was just about done. They had one album to do. It was a fulfilling of their contract. They actually had three British guys involved there. They had a British drummer, one who had played with Al Stewart, and a British bass player who also played with Al Stewart at one time. And of course me as a British sax player at the time. They had a keyboard player named Kim Bullard who they just got into the band. So that's really what Poco was at the time. And lo and behold, boom! They have a massive, million dollar selling album. I helped with playing on "Heart Of The Night" for them. In terms of British players, that helped kind of launch Poco into what they were then to become. Also at that time Karla Bonoff had a lot of success as a songwriter but never attempted a solo career and in fact she didn't like it and never really wanted to do it again. But for that moment I played on her track called "Personally" and she had a Top 20 hit. That was another American artist and again I played with groups like America and they had hit albums with me playing on it. So, on top of what I played on in England, I crossed the Atlantic and actually played on hits for American artists in America. I don't think there are any British sax players who have done that. And very few American players have done the reverse either. I don't think any American players have played in America on hits and played England, The only one I can think of is possibly Bobby Keys with The Stones. But Bobby just passed on as well. I'm becoming the last legend standing here. (laughs)

Q - That's what I said at the beginning of this interview, you've got to get back on the road!

A - Well, it's a terrible job, but somebody's got to do it. (laughs) I think I'll probably be one of the only sax-based shows 'live' actually going on the road playing Rock 'n' Roll sax. There's plenty of sax guys. There's all the Soft Jazz guys. There's loads of Soft Jazz guys. They come out of the woodwork. But there's not many Rock guys. Probably the other biggest name I think is an established name would be Alto Reed, with Bob Seger. And of course there's always been Jim Horn going around. Jim's mostly played in sections, although he has done a bunch of solos. I don't know that many come to mind though as being like classics. There's not like a "Baker Street" or something like that. The classic of all time, Clarence Clemons and "Born To Run". Wow! A great solo. Clarence again was a leader. He was definitely the big man with the big sax and playing some great solos.

Q - And now you are the subject of a new documentary. How did that come about?

A - To tell you the truth, there was a gentleman in Nashville who was doing some work and Harry (Jarvis, film maker) had come to Nashville and attempted to study various artists and do various video work for them. We met up at this guy's studio and I was actually doing some over-dubs for him. They were young artists and I don't know if it ever came to anything 'cause strangely enough, the studio itself, somebody bought right after and demolished. (laughs) But that's where Harry and I met. He was doing some shooting for this young artist video at the time, using green screen. We talked and he said, "I'd really like to do a documentary on you." I said, "Well, okay. Have at it."

Q - Where will this documentary be shown?

A - We don't know right now. We haven't even attempted to market it. We're still finishing it up. We're tweaking it and doing bits to it. It's shaping up really nicely because there's a lot of stuff in it. The thing is, what do we leave out? There's so much stuff, it could be a three hour documentary. (laughs) We're trying to get it down to a couple of hours and maybe make it a two part thing. And, we haven't marketed it yet. We're saving it a little bit because we're just about to launch on this whole new concept of "Save Our Sax Solo" thing. I'm hoping to get some interest from some of the people involved. I can't save the sax solo all on my own. The rest of the music industry needs to sit up and take notice, especially any of the artists who have benefited from having great sax solos on their work. I think they should lend a hand. I'm trying to start a movement here. I think I may, to some degree, be successful. We've got several ideas up our sleeves which I can't reveal to you at this moment, but they're in the works. We'll see how much response we get towards it once that goes on. Then it will be time to release the documentary.

Q - It would seem to me you sort of fell into this position as a session player. Was that easier than being part of a group?

A - No. Each one has it's own difficulties. It's two different things. Being part of a group is great is the group is successful. If not, it's a lot of hard work. A lot of road work. A lot of travel. A lot of one night stands. And not always a lot of money. In the session side of things, the money is ordained by the union. It's rare for you to get stiffed in any way. It's not like playing a club where the club owner might stiff you. It's very much more ordered and regimented. In fact, most work for any media industry such as TV and or sessions is very controlled. You pretty much get paid exactly on cue with what you're supposed to get. Nobody really bucks the system very much. You just have to be wary of not taking any work that's a bit outside of let's say the general run of stuff. Not that you can't do that, but you run the risk of not getting paid. In that regard, it's a lot easier. The only hard part about sessioning is picking and choosing what you do. You have to be aware that you're maybe going to have to play things that you don't particularly care for because you don't get to call the shots. But by the same token, I was lucky in the fact that my main talent was being able to walk into a session and within five or ten minutes of listening to a song, I would be able to put something on there that was significant and would work. I got to be able to be more of a free agent and I got to be good at it.

Q - I guess so!

A - (laughs) But there's a lot to learn in doing it. It's not easy. I learned the hard way just by doing it time after time until eventually I ended up playing on hits. I was playing on sessions for a good five, six years before I really started having major success. I was playing with big artists. Being on the record is one thing, getting the plum spot and being able to nail it doesn't happen on every recording you do. I played a lot of stuff with Roger Daltry and it's out there. It's on his records, but I doubt if it ever hits the charts much.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.